In a week that saw Tharunka, UNSW’s newspaper, publish an image of the female reproductive system being ‘fucked’ by a Christian cross, the very thought of censoring a student newspaper based on its sexual content seems unbelievable. In Sydney, maybe, but some 13 000km away, a student newspaper in New Mexico experienced just that.
The newspaper of the Central New Mexico Community College, the CNM Chronicle, published their annual special edition at the end of March. The current editorial team, headed by editor-in-chief Jyllian Roach, decided this year that the focus of their special edition would be sex, in an attempt to discuss, as Roach said, “the more intricate parts of sex and the more fringe stuff” that is often left out of mainstream discussions.
The 12-page edition, published on Tuesday March 26, featured stories on sexuality, sex toys, abstinence, and BDSM. The day that it was published, the College’s administration swooped in, removed all the copies from the stands, and reportedly even took editions out of student’s hands. The administration then reported that the newspaper would be shut down for at least three months. The reasons it gave were vague, and multiple. The first reason, Roach was told, was that “the issue was raunchy,” and the second, released in a statement, was that because the college did not have a journalism program, none of the students involved in the paper were sufficiently trained to “operate a newspaper that is distributed to a student body of nearly 30 000.” Roach responded to this by stating that “we recently won third place in an international competition… so somebody thinks we’re doing it right.”
Americans love their god-given First Amendment right. Freedom of speech is kind of a big deal – one protestor on the Chronicle‘s Facebook page pointed out that “lives, blood, sweat and tears have been shed” for this right – and so this example of unholy censorship was met with a backlash on a gargantuan scale. Several First Amendment lobby groups reacted, and the nearby University of New Mexico’s student paper, The Daily Lobo, suspended its print publication in solidarity. Their Wednesday edition contained only its protest statement, advertisements, and giant crosses where content should have been. In a statement, the editor-in-chief, Elizabeth Cleary, said that the CNM administration had “stripped students of some basic constitutional rights” and that “The Daily Lobo will not publish printed issues of the newspaper until the CNM administration agrees to reinstate Chronicle staff members to their former positions at the paper and allow the newspaper to remain free of faculty, staff, or administration oversight.” From there the news quickly became national, and word began to spread.
Cut to Wednesday lunchtime, 22 hours after the edition was yanked from students’ hands. The College’s president, Kathie Winograd, emailed the publication board, “authorising the CNM Chronicle to continue operations immediately.” In the administration’s third statement to the editorial team, she said: “the reason that we pulled this issue from news-racks around campus was that a High School student was included in this issue and we needed to check on the legal ramifications of information on a minor in a publication of the college.” In the US, there are no laws against contacting minors for comment, and the Chronicle had received the minor’s parent’s permission to publish her comment, as a courtesy.
Roach sees through the bullshit: “my feeling on it is that… someone made this decision in a very emotional state, and after they got a good night’s sleep, they really reconsidered and went ‘well, maybe that wasn’t what we should have done’.”
It seems the moral of the story here is: get a good night’s sleep, lest you violate your students’ rights and make an idiot of yourself in the national media.